Combatting Covid-19 with Emerging Tech

Article By : Cabe Atwell

Medical professionals are employing the latest technology to help mitigate the current pandemic that's hit nearly every continent.

In the world of infectious diseases, a pandemic is a worst-case scenario, which means an infectious epidemic has spread beyond a country’s border. While the world is currently battling the Coronavirus (Covid-19), it’s not the first to encompass the world, as the first recorded pandemic occurred during the Peloponnesian War in 430 B.C., which was suspected of being Typhoid and killed a quarter of the population over four years.

Not much was known back then on how to treat the symptoms of the disease, until around 27 B.C., when the Romans forged a military medical system to get soldiers back up and fighting as fast as possible. According to an article by Valentine John Belfiglio, the Roman army was the first in history to employ field medics into their armies, along with field hospitals and triage. Their system relied on cleanliness, hygiene, sanitation, and immediate medical care helped keep pandemics at bay.

Technology has advanced since those times, and the world is better equipped to handle virulent outbreaks, certainly so when the plague took the world over in 1347. During that period, doctors tried to cure the disease by rubbing onions, herbs, or raw snake meat (if available) on the infected bodies. Other notable cures of the time included drinking arsenic, mercury, eating crushed minerals, and wearing elongated “bird” masks that held flowers and herbs to prevent the inhalation of the disease from decaying bodies.

Fortunately for us, we live in a world better equipped to handle virulent pandemics, and medical professionals are employing the latest technology to help mitigate the current pandemic that’s hit nearly every continent. In this article, we will take a look at some of that technology and how it’s being utilized to prevent the spread of the pandemic and treating those who have become inflicted.

An autonomous service delivery robot
from Pudu Technology
(Image credit: Pudu Technology)

Doctors on the front line in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak of the Coronavirus originated, are utilizing robots to help those who are infected. Shenzhen-based Pudu Technology has deployed its Autonomous Service Delivery Robots in local hospitals to deliver cooked foods and medications to patients who are being quarantined. Another Chinese-based robotics company, TMiROB, has provided their Titanium Intelligent Disinfection Robots to eliminate pathogens in the air and on the surfaces of isolation wards. These robots are equipped with U.V. lighting, ultra-dry mist hydrogen peroxide, and air filters to handle blood, bodily fluids, and excretions, to help curb transmission rates of the coronavirus.

Engineers from Xi’an Jiaotong University in west China’s Shaanxi Province have collaborated with robotics manufacturer Youibot and local police to deploy 5G-powered temperature screening robots in shopping malls and other areas with large volumes of people. These robots are capable of taking the temperatures of up to 10 people at a time using thermal imaging cameras and other sensors. They are also outfitted with facial recognition systems, so if they detect someone with higher body temperature, it will alert local authorities to have that particular person tested for the Coronavirus.

Doctors in Washington have utilized robots as well since the first case of the novel coronavirus entered the U.S. Medical professionals have deployed InTouch’s Vici telemedicine terminal that allows doctors to diagnose patients remotely using pan/zoom/tilt cameras, a large display, microphone, and speaker.

Another high-tech tool being used to combat the coronavirus is artificial intelligence (AI), which is being used in concert with Youibot’s temperature screening robots deployed in places where crowds typically gather. Companies such as Baidu and SenseTime are tailoring their respective facial recognition algorithms to identify those not wearing protective masks while in public. SenseTime’s Smart A.I. Epidemic Prevention Solution system can garner data from camera systems and temperature sensors to identify individuals that may have the virus.

With the deployment of surveillance cameras in most Chinese cities and the recent use of temperature-sensing robots, the AI platform can help mitigate or slow the outbreak of the coronavirus. According to SenseTime, “The SenseCare Smart Health Platform is already widely adopted by a number of hospitals. Using image-processing technology, the platform assists doctors to analyze images of suspected pneumonia cases and assess the level of lung abnormalities, which improves the efficiency of diagnostic procedures. SenseTime is also supporting medical institutions and research labs to develop a treatment for the coronavirus by sharing its knowledge in AI technologies and research experience in pharmacology and gene analysis.”

Color-coded health designations, devised by Alibaba and Tencent (Image credit: hiHainan)

Alibaba and Tencent Holdings have created a color-based system for tracking individuals with coronavirus on a national level. The Chinese government can use the system to assign different QR codes to indicate if people have the disease, or are at risk of catching it so they can self-quarantine. The system has already started as a pilot program in Hangzhou, where millions have downloaded the system via Alibaba’s Alipay app. Those with a green code, are free to travel anywhere in public, while those assigned a yellow or red code require 7 to 14 days of quarantine before traveling.

Alibaba is also teaming with Yitu Technology and Huawei to offer AI-backed services to help doctors diagnose patients more quickly via CAT (computerized axial tomography) scans. Normally, it takes doctors 5 to 15-minutes to analyze a scan, which could include more than 300 images, taken using a single person. Alibaba states their A.I. algorithms could reduce that time down to just 20-seconds, with a diagnostic accuracy of 96 percent, according to an article from China’s Sina Tech News.

Penda developed a bio-barrier that can be deployed like a shield. (Image credit: Penda via Instagram)

Architectural firm Penda has claimed they have created a biological suit that can protect wearers against the virus by sterilizing the environment around the suit suing heat and UV radiation. The suit is packed into a lightweight carbon-fiber backpack, which contains a PVC film and deploys like a shield when needed, acting as a barrier against the virus. The shield is outfitted with UV lights that can then neutralize any contaminants that come in contact on its surface. As comical as that might sound, there are families in Chinese communities wearing large clear plastic bags and bottles to keep them from contracting the contagion due to shortages of supplies.

While a pandemic can slow travel, and disrupt everything from the stock exchange to local gas stations, one thing remains constant — going to work. Most people anywhere on the planet have to continue working in order to pay the bills. More companies than ever before have created a system to where at least one or more areas of operations can be performed remotely, allowing employees to work from home. Everything from producing spreadsheets to industrial automation can be conducted via the internet.

Applications such as Asana, Slack, and Trello make it easy for employees to continue working as a team no matter where they are located, while the Cloud can be utilized to store and send large amounts of data. Add to that telepresence robots, webcams, and videoconferencing tools, and companies can mitigate any downtime they would have suffered otherwise under pandemic conditions. Ultimately, it’s about keeping employees and workers safe and healthy, and staying away from large crowds can help lessen the chances of becoming infected.

These are just some examples of the technology being used to help monitor, diagnose, and treat patients who have, or are at risk of having the coronavirus.

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